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The Defensive Situation: Who’s Earned It?

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While the New Jersey Devils were not expected to excel this season, the team's defense was expected to be one of the bright spots. There is a wealth of young talent that should be improving. However, the bottom 4 has been in flux. Let's look at it.

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Over the course of the first 10 games of the season, the 6th defensive spot has continually changed for the New Jersey Devils.  While the top pairing of Andy Greene and Adam Larsson has been kept together and has done really well together, the bottom two pairings have seemingly been different each and every night.  More often than not, a new person is taking their turn in the press box while someone else gets a chance to prove that they belong in the lineup on a nightly basis.

Today, I want to build off of what Gerard wrote on Thursday.  The question I want to pose here is who has done the most to deserve consistent playing time; conversely, who has not been pulling their weight, and perhaps deserves more time off the ice?

The following chart showcases the basic numbers for the defensemen in question.  They are not the more analytical numbers—those will come later.  Statistical information here courtesy of Hockey ReferenceNote: all numbers in the following charts do not include Thursday night's contest against Philadelphia.  If you would like to see those additions, the websites should be updated with that information by the time this article is released.

Name

GP

G

A

+/-

PIM

S

S%

ATOI

Damon Severson

8

0

3

-1

2

15

0%

18:48

Eric Gelinas

7

1

0

1

0

7

14.3%

14:36

David Schlemko

9

1

0

-1

2

12

8.3%

16:20

Jon Merrill

5

0

0

-4

6

2

0%

15:52

John Moore

8

0

0

-3

4

13

0%

19:39

The numbers are not overly encouraging, but then again these are more offensive stats, and the only one who is supposed to really be an offensive force is Gelinas.  Let's also throw in blocked shots and hits to get at least a little better idea.

Name

Blocked Shots

Hits

Damon Severson

5

6

Eric Gelinas

2

5

David Schlemko

9

7

Jon Merrill

4

3

John Moore

10

9

This at least adds to the story a little more, but again, this only covers 9 games of stats.  Nonetheless, it is clear that some have been producing more both offensively and defensively than others.  Mike was right the other day—Gelinas has struggled so far.  He is a +1 which you may think is good, but his zone starts have been very sheltered and his quality of competition has been weak, as I will showcase later on.  He is not shooting the puck, with only 7 shots on net in 7 games, and he has the least amount of ice time per game.  He has some hits which shows that he is using the body a little, but he is barely blocking any shots, which does not help the goaltender.

On the reverse side, I am more impressed with the numbers from John Moore.  His -3 is not good, but that could be caused by zone starts, poor teammates on the ice, or just from bad puck luck.  Everything else is decent.  Yes he has not scored, but he has 13 shots on net, which is 2nd on that list.  He also has the most ice time per game, the most blocked shots, and the most hits.  He is working hard out there, and those numbers do showcase that to a degree.

Next, let's add in some of the more advanced stats, and include possession and zone starts.  This will help to clear up the picture more.  These stats will come from Puckalytics, and only include 5 on 5 ice time.

Name

CF%

Relative CF%

OZFO%

NZFO%

DZFO%

PDO

Damon Severson

49.5

-1.7

51.3

39.5

9.2

100.3

Eric Gelinas

57.6

7.8

44.3

37.1

18.6

99.9

David Schlemko

53.6

2.1

48.1

33.7

18.3

98.5

Jon Merrill

41.1

-11.8

35.3

41.2

23.5

89.2

John Moore

50.2

1.5

40.4

38.2

21.3

96.9

From this chart, it is clear that John Hynes is trying to shelter all 5 of these defensemen as much as possible.  Their zone start percentages tell this story.  Severson does not even have 10% of his zone starts in the defensive zone, and has over half in the offensive zone.  That is extreme sheltering.  Despite that, he still is a negative Corsi player, which speaks volumes as to how he has been playing this season so far, and he is the only one with positive luck in this group.  Back in the season preview, I said that he was not far behind Larsson.  Yikes, was I wrong or what?

After Severson, Gelinas and Schlemko have been similarly sheltered.  Both get just under half of their zone starts in the offensive zone, and both receive around 18 and a half percent of their starts in the defensive zone.  Given that knowledge, Gelinas has way better possession stats than Schlemko, but we should look at quality of competition first before determining that Gelinas has played better.  At this point, the eye test does not agree with that statement in my opinion.

The least sheltered of the bunch have been Merrill and Moore.  Both have over 20% of their zone starts in the defensive zone.  Merrill has had some awful luck with a PDO of 89.2, but he has not helped himself at all in terms of possession, with a miserable -11.2 relative Corsi.  That is about as bad as it gets.  Perhaps if he gets some more luck, that number might rise a little.  On the reverse, Moore has been a positive possession player despite the tougher zone starts, and he has also been unlucky.  Again, I think this speaks to the fact that he has played fairly well to start this season.

(as a side note, Larsson has a OZFO% of 17.2 and a DZFO% of 44.3.  Greene is in a similar boat.  Just a little different, huh?  They clearly get the tough assignments.)

Before concluding, let's look at some quality of competition numbers to see who these defensemen have been lining up against for the majority of their ice time.  This information comes from Behind the Net, and also only includes 5 on 5 action.

Name

+/- QoC

Corsi Relative QoC

Damon Severson

0.170

0.244

Eric Gelinas

-0.173

-0.969

David Schlemko

-0.022

-1.008

Jon Merrill

-0.168

-0.881

John Moore

-0.103

-0.209

Okay, so the eye test does not necessarily hold up when discussing Gelinas vs. Schlemko.  First, however, let me quickly explain the numbers.  The first category is the average +/- numbers of opponents faced by that particular skater.  The higher the number, the higher average +/- that skater has faced.  The next is the same, but looking at relative Corsi instead of +/-.  The higher the number, the higher the opponents' relative Corsi is on their respective teams.

So, back to Gelinas and Schlemko.  Both have played very weak competition, at least in comparison to the others on that list.  The more important stat, the relative Corsi stat, is the true indicator.  Opponents facing Gelinas have an average relative Corsi of -0.969, and for Schlemko it is over -1.  Those are poor numbers, and they indicate that their opponents are not driving play forward.  This means that both Gelinas and Schlemko have faced easy competition overall.  So, the only major difference between the two is possession, and Gelinas wins out.  Numbers-wise, Gelinas has played better.

As for everyone else, Merrill also plays against pretty easy competition, with a relative Corsi QoC of -0.881.  And despite that, he still has miserable possession stats.  That is not a good indicator.  You can tell why he only played in 5 of the first 9 games.  Conversely, Severson has played against the toughest competition of the bunch, as he has faced competition with positive plus minus numbers, and with positive relative Corsi numbers.  He at least has an excuse for some of his bad play.

Finally, I have been praising John Moore this entire article, and while the QoC numbers indicate that I should not keep praising him, they also are not awful.  He has played against some easy competition, but compared to the others on this list, he has not been extremely sheltered in terms of QoC.

(again for reference, Larsson has a Corsi Relative QoC of 0.948, and Greene is at 1.104.  That is much tougher competition than any of the other guys.)

Conclusion

In the end, the numbers frankly say that none of the guys have been particularly awesome.  When compared to Larsson and Greene, the other 5 defensemen have been much more sheltered, both in terms of zone starts and quality of competition.  Despite, this, however, their numbers are not significantly improved.  Only Schlemko and Gelinas have exceptional possession stats, but both have been extremely sheltered.  Moore is the only other one with positive possession, and he is just above at 50.2.  Merrill has been so much of a possession black hole so far that it is almost embarrassing.

So, to answer my question from the start...who deserves more ice time?  Maybe no one.  But if I am going to pick someone, I would have to go with Moore.  As compared to the other four defensemen, he has had decently tough zone start percentages and has played against decently tough competition, yet has still produced a positive Corsi and also has the most hits, blocked shots, and average ice time.  If anyone has deserved a locked position on the second pairing so far, at least in terms of the numbers, I think it would be John Moore.

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts?  Did you come to a similar conclusion as I did?  If so, why does John Moore deserve the most playing time of the bunch?  If not, who do you think has deserved the most playing time of the 5 defensemen not named Adam or Andy?  Why so?  Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.